Break Chairs is the kind of album that's extremely hard to write a review for. Especially since I've never really written a review before, and I don't usually care for most reviews that I see printed on the pages of shiny magazines and smarmy indie websites. I prefer getting my record reviews from friends over coffee or a burger and fries. So I'll try and treat you as such.
It's too hard to compare I Break Chairs to anything because it's got that sort of timeless quality to it. Sometimes you swear you're listening to an early 90's indie-pop record. At first, Damien's lonesome, occasionally off-key, vocals have a folky, country feel to them. The next moment it's soaring, anthemic rock. Soaring is the key word here. There is a strong birds/flying theme throughout this album, starting with the jangly album opener, "Paperwings". Mr. Jurado has written songs with glorious floating melodies and buoyant guitar work. It's a far cry from the more mopey, introspective work of the last two albums, the lush, dark, Rehearsals and Departures and the more barebones Ghost of David.
It's an instantly likeable album. The kind you could put on in the car for the first time, and without ever hearing any of the songs, feel like you already know them. In the long run, it's a really rewarding listen. The songs might appear at first to be simple, but the melodies unfold and reveal the layers underneath with each listen. My initial reaction was that this was a solid, pleasant album, but I've grown into a kind of gooey love for it.
I'm a total sucker for the one-two punch of jangling guitars and bouncing rhythms that dominate this album. "Air Show Disaster" uses chiming guitars and bells while Mr. Jurardo croons, "another nice day for an air show disaster". It's enough to make any power pop fan's heart melt. "Big Deal" and "Birdcage" both work a chugging, upbeat rhythm that makes me dance around in my peejays, bobbing my head and strumming along on my Fender Aircaster 2000. "Big Deal" even gets bonus points for appealing to my new wave side by adding the kind of buzzing keyboard that's not just there to dress a song up. It really works. Every guilty guitar pop trick is present and accounted for. The fuzz of "Castles", and the piercing, plucked melody that separates the verses of "Parade". A few silly lyrics that pepper the album, "she can sink me/ like Titanic", make me cringe. But all is usually either forgiven or forgotten by the next chorus.
This album probably could have benefited from a less polished production sound. The slow, sad ballads are warm and the anthems are crisp. Pretty standard fare. But to be honest, this is mostly a personal, aesthetic nitpick. I prefer my albums a little dirty and noisy. I like lots of texture to sink my teeth into, and for me, I Break Chairs' biggest weak spot is the lack of texture. What it lacks in texture though, it more than makes up for with its catchy songs. Lucky for Damien, this particular sound works with these songs.
This album got me to thinking. When was the last time a really, really great straightforward indie rock/pop album came out? I'm racking my brain and it's bringing me back to the salad days of 1992, 1993. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Without a Sound, No Pocky For Kitty, and There's Nothing Wrong With Love, are probably the most obvious, but also closest touchstones to this fine piece of pop. Enjoy with the windows down.
Reviewed by: Colleen Delaney
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01